The recent wave of coup attempts and political instability in Africa serves as a testament to the erosion of democratic principles and institutions in Africa. If you walk down the streets of Nigeria or any other African nation, and ask the average person what democracy means, they would likely respond, government by the people, of the people, and for the people. It is a phrase I believe, that echoes the ideals of democracy worldwide. However, decades after democratization began in Africa in the 90s, democratic consolidation which implies the strengthening and deepening of democratic principles and institutions remains elusive.
Democracy for many, represents not just a political system, but stands as a vision of hope for a better future. This is because it promises responsive governance, economic growth and development, and the protection of human rights. However, the continent’s journey to democracy has been fraught with challenges, as is evident given the recent coups in Niger and Gabon. While a military coup hasn’t plagued Nigeria in recent times, the just concluded presidential elections left citizens agitated and dismayed in what can be said to be a gross under-representation of the electorates in the elections, since Nigeria became a democratic nation.
One thing that is evident amongst the nations that have recently experienced military takeover is their similar origins, they are all French colonies as stated by William Miles, a professor of Political Science. If we take a look at these two recent individual cases of Niger and Gabon, we can see that the rising level of insecurity, the declining economic growth and the perception of the continuous hold of colonial powers over their former colonies led to the military takeover in Niger. Gabon has been run as a family business, a dynasty, with almost a 56-year rule, from Omar Bongo 1967 to Ali Bingo 2023.
Does this reign however signify a grip of the former colonial masters? Does it signify that France in this case is taking advantage of its former colonies, by ensuring that those who would be loyal to their government remain in power? While it might be easier to actually believe these scenarios and chase after them, what I believe to be more pressing is us as a people, our government actually serving the people they are meant to serve and not neglecting the sole purpose for which they were elected in the first place.
To uphold what democracy means for the common man, amongst others, the Rule of Law needs to be upheld meaning everyone is subject to the law, independence of the judiciary system, free and fair elections ensuring the representation of the electorates in elections, and also government accountability and transparency. By ensuring that these things are adhered to, democratic institutions will be strengthened, thereby promoting good governance.
To further address the issue of coups, which obviously requires urgent attention; as political stability is necessary for a country’s progress, regional organizations like ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and AU (African Union), can also play a role in preventing coups and ensure democratic progress. It is imperative to look at the situations surrounding these nations and employ timely measures to ensure that the citizens are highly represented in all possible ways. Democratic elections should be held to a standard by which if such isn’t met and there’s an outcry from the populace, such nations should hold a re-run. Democracies are not dynasties. It is rather sad to see that regional organizations do not condemn such practices disguising as democracies, infringing on the rights of the citizens.
In all, I believe it is time that Africa as a continent become more self-reliant, ensuring that the progress we want to see, the progress we believe we deserve comes our way. And if there are certain issues that stand in the way of this progress that we so desire, they should be tackled with immediate effect. Addressing the factors that contribute to political instability such as ethnic fractionalization, economic inequality and corruption which has eaten deep into the fabric of our societies is essential for curbing military interventions. Therefore, by promoting inclusive government, economic development and growth, social unity even in diversity, anti-corruption practices, the grievances that contribute to the emergence of political instability and coups can be curtailed.
The consolidation of democracy in African nations still has a long way to go. African leaders should realize that they are not elected to satisfy their personal needs and amass wealth for their personal gains, they are rather meant to lead, serve and ensure the progress of all. They are meant to help strengthen and unite the citizens and not cause further divide, or create grievances that would lead to military interventions and coups.
Alegbe is student of Political Science and International Relations, Nazarbayev University